26 September 2023

Remember Me

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Charity Norman, Allen and Unwin, $29.99.

New Zealand author Charity Norman was shortlisted for in the International category of the 2021 Ned Kelly Awards for her previous book The Secrets of Strangers. That book was a hostage thriller set in a London café. In Remember Me, Norman returns to New Zealand along with her protagonist for a more family-oriented drama in line with some of her other books but one with a crime hidden at its centre.

Emily Kirkland returns from England for three weeks to check on her ageing father, Felix. Felix is suffering from dementia and his world is slowly becoming more confusing and more dangerous. She quickly reconnects with her neighbours the Paratas whose daughter Leah went missing in the wild hill country around their properties twenty-five years before. As Leah navigates dealing with her slowly fading father and her suspicious siblings, she also starts to have suspicions that point her to some connection between her father and Leah’s disappearance. And as her father starts to slip further into his dementia, and the anniversary of Leah’s disappearance approaches more clues emerge of this connection.

With Remember Me, Norman taps into what is becoming a more common situation for middle-aged adults and one that is appearing more and more in literature as a result. Emily considers herself part of the “sandwich generation”, having to start looking after her father just after she has finished caring for her grown son, now independent and out into the world. Norman observes the relationship between Emily and Felix with plenty of compassion, exploring how Felix’s deterioration breaks through his lifetime of reserve with his children but also how Emily, as an adult, finds herself finally able to understand him and some of his choices. Norman looks at similar issues with Emily’s neighbours, the Peratas, who’s father also had a slow decline and death from Huntington’s disease at a much younger age.

Remember Me has a mystery at its heart but it is dealt with gently. It is really a story of people dealing with genetic disease and ageing and the terrible choices that those conditions can force them to make or consider. In this context, Emily does not so much re-investigate Leah’s disappearance as slowly uncover clues that things may not have been as she thought before being handed the final reveal. And that reveal is as heartbreaking as the other two central tales of people being brought down by age and genetics. Norman does not provide any easy answers but she deals with these issues with compassion, understanding and depth.

Over 750 more reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

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